7 Ways to Support Your Immune System During Flu Season
What is the immune system and why is it important?
During the cold and flu season, viruses and bacteria are usually the most common causes of acute and short-term illnesses. Viruses and bacteria fall under the category of microorganisms called pathogens. Pathogens are what people often refer to colloquially as “germs”. On the surface of a pathogen are found protein molecules called antigens: these are the proteins which can cause inflammation and disease in the body.
The immune system is important because it is dedicated to protecting the body’s physical health from disease-causing antigens. Without an immune system or with a very weak immune system, a person’s body can easily get sick and die. The main parts of the immune system include the spleen (which filters blood), the bone marrow (which produces blood cells), the thymus (which produces T-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell), the white blood cells themselves, the antibodies, and the lymphatic system. All sick and healthy people should be concerned with taking good care of their immune systems, because the immune system protects life.
How does the immune system work?
White blood cells are like soldiers in the army of the immune system and are primarily focused on fighting infection, unlike red blood cells whose main function is to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. B-lymphocytes (“B-cells”), T-lymphocytes (“T-cells”), and “natural killer cells” are among the types of white blood cells. These circulate throughout the blood and tissues looking for invading antigens such as viruses and bacteria. When an immune cell encounters an antigen, it signals the entire immune system to launch an attack to identify and destroy infected cells. The lymphatic system circulates white blood cells, gets rid of waste products such as dead cells in the blood, and helps manage fluid levels in the body.
After the immune system has successfully fought off a certain illness, it produces and stores antibodies in special T-cells and B-cells which are called “memory cells”. Antibodies are the special proteins which the immune system uses to encode the “key” to identifying and fighting future antigens of the same type. This is why it’s unusual for a person who has recovered to immediately get sick again with the exact same illness. Unfortunately, many viruses and bacteria can mutate frequently, so the immune system must keep constantly learning to identify and fight off new antigens.
What are some ways to boost the immune system?
This flu season, you may be looking for ways to boost your immune system. While there is no easy hack which guarantees a strong immune system, there are several things you can do to help yourself be optimally prepared to stay healthy when exposed to germs and to moderate the severity of illness if you do get sick. Here are some tips from SAMI-Aid:
- Eat a nutritious diet. While some supplements might help, medical experts believe that essential vitamins and nutrients are most efficiently absorbed by the body when consumed in foods. Lean meat, salmon, dark green vegetables, and citrus fruits are good dietary choices to support your immune system. For optimal health, try to minimize your consumption of added sugars and highly processed, pre-packaged foods such as “TV dinners”. Consuming more whole foods and foods high in “healthy fats” such as olive oil, salmon, and chia seeds can help fight inflammation, thus boosting the immune system.
- Add probiotic foods or supplements. Just as there are pathogenic strains of bacteria which cause disease, there are beneficial strains of bacteria which can help keep the body healthy and functioning; examples of these include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Many of these “good bacteria” live in the gut—the digestive tract—and help the immune system fight “bad bacteria”. Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented food—such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut—or in probiotic supplements.
- Minimize stress and anxiety. While your body's ability to trigger a "fight-or-flight" response is important for survival, your immune system also becomes depressed and treated as secondary during a primal stress response. Only when you feel relatively safe from an immediate threat can your brain focus on fighting viruses and bacteria. Try to reduce triggers of anxiety to keep your immune system active.
- Stay thoroughly hydrated. The human body consists of over 70% water by weight. Water is essential for many processes including digestion, circulation, and the lymphatic system. Drink plenty of water and consider moderating your intake of alcohol during flu season or at any time when you are worried about getting sick.
- Prioritize quality sleep. One research study found that sleep deprivation hampers the function of white blood cells and is just as damaging to the immune system as physical stress. During quality sleep, the body regenerates and produces more infection-fighting molecules such as cytokines.
- Engage in exercise regularly. Physical exercise improves the function of both the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Regular movement is good for the immune system and muscle contractions help "pump" lymph fluid, enabling immune cells to travel more easily throughout the body. Exercise does not need to be vigorous to be beneficial; even moderate exercises such as light hiking, brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, and jumping on a trampoline can produce cardiovascular and immune benefits.
- Consult with a professional. If you are feeling sick or just want professional medical or nutrition advice, call a SAMI-Aid doctor or nutritionist for just $59.99. If you're feeling stressed out or just need to talk to someone, call a SAMI-Aid therapist or psychiatrist for just $59.99. You may also wish to compare our membership plans: SAMI-Aid’s Premium membership costs $79.99 per month and includes 2 free medical consultations per month. SAMI-Aid’s flat fee of $59.99 per consultation includes consultations for therapy psychiatry, and unlike other therapy services there is no extra charge for the initial set-up visit for new patients.